Somewhere on the face of the earth two men, hands cuffed behind their backs, are running. They have escaped from some sort of prison. For now, their existence is their flight. Like a shadow, a black helicopter follows.
Between MacConnachie (Robert Shaw, who also adapted Barry England’s 1968 novel) and Ansell (Malcolm McDowell, excellent) is a compounded gulf: “Mac” is, he notes, nearly old enough to be young Ansell’s father; Mac, from the country, is contemptuous of Ansell’s London; Mac is a loner/rugged individualist, while Ansell, confessing loneliness, isn’t willing yet to go his separate way. Absurdly sentimental: Mac won’t let Ansell near his daughters, he says, although, far removed from them, Mac no longer has the access or authority to determine such things regarding his daughters except that there’s no such threat where Ansell is concerned. Ansell will never see Mac’s daughters, if they even exist.
All-out war breaks out between escapees and those dogging them, and for a brief, stunning stretch Southeast Asia seems (somewhat) to locate the action, that is, until the sight of a train relocates it—to elsewhere.
Armed with cinematographer Henri Alëkan (Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast, 1946; Wenders’ Wings of Desire, 1987), here working in mysterious, ambiguous color (a presumed sunset turns out to be a sunrise), Joseph Losey has directed brilliantly, fashioning a universal parable that chuckles unmercifully at our security blanket of self-determination, creating along the way a splendid series of widescreen images (several juxtapose negative space and the two men huddling off-center, while another fills space between the men positively, each at an opposite side of the frame). As far apart as we all are, Ansell and Mac experience their shared ordeal as though with a single bloodstream, from under the same skin.
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